How transparent are my clothes?

Hiya, I’m Veronika from the communications team, and it’s time for my first Weekly Chart! It’s all about clothes, transparency (of reporting, not pantyhose!), and the power of indices.

As the seasons change and the temperatures drop closer to zero, it’s time to look into our wardrobes and make sure we have our sweaters, coats, and scarves at hand. I decided to do the same. Picking up each piece of clothing, I couldn’t help but wonder: What do I know about my clothes? Some are old, some are new, some soft and cozy, others less so — but is that it?

Inspired by Margaux’s investigation of her own wardrobe, I’ve decided to use my very first Weekly Chart to answer a tricky question: What do I know about my clothes and the companies that made them?

The Fashion Transparency Index

As a lifelong overthinker, I like to answer complex questions in a systematic, measurable way. Lucky for me, others have already gone through the trouble of collecting lots of public information about the world’s largest fashion brands with a particular focus — transparency.

The Fashion Transparency Index (FTI) ranks “250 of the world’s biggest fashion brands and retailers based on their public disclosure of human rights and environmental policies, practices and impacts, in their operations and supply chains.” It won’t tell us which brands are the most sustainable, but it gives us an idea of how much they’re willing to share. Having built sustainability indices at a previous job, I learned that competitive rankings motivate companies to share more and ultimately improve their actions, and that transparency is the first step towards measurable progress.

Let’s have a look inside my wardrobe

To answer my question, I needed data from two sources: my wardrobe and WikiRate, an open data platform (and our Berlin neighbor) that makes the data behind the FTI available to everyone. Next, I plotted the number of clothes I have from each brand against the brands’ index scores. And voilà!

Here's what I found:

1. My wardrobe scores above average

My wardrobe scores above average in the context of the 250 brands included in the Fashion Transparency Index. That sounds like good news, but 4.1 out of 10 points is underwhelming. The FTI average is only 2.4, and none of the companies on the index scored 8 or above. While one above-average scoring brand, Lindex, is clearly overrepresented, I own clothes from brands across the transparency spectrum. Category-wise, my shoes are among the most transparent. On the other hand, my budget-friendly purchases at Decathlon (as a cautious new runner) drag the sports section down.

2. The most transparent brand is… H&M?!

That might come as a shock at first. H&M is the poster child of fast fashion, overconsumption, and underpaying workers. But let’s keep in mind that a massive listed company (especially with a bad rep and lots of attention on it) will always report more than a private-label brand hiding behind a retail chain. We only know about the villains we can see.

3. Premium brands lag behind.

I was more surprised to see what I consider more upmarket brands, Max Mara and Pepe Jeans, coming last. The premium paid by their customers clearly doesn’t go towards better reporting. (Talking about Max Mara isn’t very accurate anyway. I found out that my glasses, branded Max&Co., are in fact made by an eyewear company called Marcolin Group that's owned by a private equity firm, produces glasses for 25 different brands, and the only kind of sustainability its reports mention is the sustainability of sales growth.)

4. There’s a lot I don’t know about my clothes.

Many of my clothes were made by smaller brands that didn’t make it onto the index, and there’s only so much I know about them. Some I’d consider sustainable because positive impact is at the core of what they do. (AEVOR works with recycled materials, ArmedAngels buys back old clothes and campaigns for climate, TOMS famously gives away a pair of shoes for every pair sold.) Some were expertly thrifted by my grandmother, minimizing their carbon footprint regardless of the brand. Others disappointed me with their opacity, such as private-label brands from Galeria or Peek & Cloppenburg chains.

What an eye-opening exercise! Many brands I considered to be decent (because they’re not ridden with human rights scandals — the bar is low!) turned out to be quite secretive. I believe transparency is crucial, not only because it’s the first step toward progress but because we deserve to know more. I’ll try to pay more attention in the future, even if it’s only a quick Google search before the next purchase.

But let’s be honest, it’s not that simple. H&M is no winner, and fast fashion is a broken system. There’s a lot more we should be asking. Is this material natural or full of microplastics? Are workers paid fairly? Can I buy this second-hand instead? Transparency of reporting is only the beginning.

When I helped build similar rankings, people would sometimes question how useful they could be. I believe the answer is: as useful as you make them! There’s so much data being collected every day, it would be a shame not to use it — whether it’s to make decisions or to better understand the world.

Have a lovely end of the week! Next Thursday, you’ll hear from our full-stack developer Pascal.